Common Recovery Tools in Active Directory: Part 2

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Monitoring with Sonar and Ultrasound

Monitoring your AD is something that needs to be done regularly, and there are many commercial utilities out there that will help you achieve this. However, it might be worth investigating tools that are available for free from Microsoft, and even from some other vendors.

Introducing Sonar

Sonar and Ultrasound are two utilities that allow you to monitor the File Replication Service (FRS), and both utilities are good at detecting problems beforehand, or issues with replication from certain DCs. Sonar can be downloaded from the Microsoft Download Center at http://www.microsoft.com/downloads.

You will need to have the .Net Framework 1.1 installed on the machine where Sonar will run. Also, please be aware that if you have .Net Framework 2.0 installed, it does not include 1.1, and you need to install 1.1 as well.

Once installed, Sonar will not create a program menu entry, so you will need to search for it. For some reason, it will install itself into the Resource Kit folder (C:Program FilesResource Kit) and it is called Sonar.exe. Once you run it, you will be presented with the following dialog box:

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At this point, you can see two buttons, which can be used either for default querying (that is, all of the DCs within your domain) or for loading the settings with the Load Query button, if you have a specific query or setup saved. In our example, we will view the results and you will see the screen that you have seen in the previous figure. Also note the drop-down for Replica Set. This allows you to monitor DFS replications within your domain. So this tool is not just used to monitor the SYSVOL replications.

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From the top part, you can easily select a very wide range of Filters via a drop-down list, and the Columns can be used to select the columns to be displayed. This relates to a group of columns, so there are more columns than just the ones selected from the drop-down. To illustrate the extent of information that you can get with this little utility, the following screenshot shows both of the menus expanded.

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As you can see, you can use this tool to find out any information regarding the replication. Once you select the filters and columns that you want, you can click Refresh All and it will fetch that information from all DCs within your domain. You can see the disk usage of the AD database on all different DCs including any DC that has low disk space, is too slow, is backlogged with AD replications, and so on. This small utility, when used periodically, will help you to keep your AD in good healthy, shape and might help you find trouble-spots such as low bandwidth or wrongly configured replication schedules.

Introducing Ultrasound

Although Sonar is a good utility that is small and does its job very well, some organizations either have many FRS points that they want to monitor, or want much more information.

This is where Ultrasound comes in. This utility is also a free download from Microsoft. However, it has much steeper requirements. Namely, it requires an SQL server as a backend. Even the SQL Server 2000 Desktop engine, or the free SQL Server 2005 Express Edition, downloadable from the Microsoft Download Center, will serve this purpose, but they would require a two-step setup and more resources. It also does collections periodically via agents that are deployed using WMI from within the Ultrasound interface. Although the free Desktop Engine has limitations, such as allowing only few connections, it does provide enough database functionality for Ultrasound. SQL Server 2005 Express edition will work perfectly fine with no problems.

If Sonar can be compared to a sonar on a boat, which gives you a lot of information about what’s ahead and what’s going on around you, then Ultrasound has all of the features of Sonar, plus an additional feature for radar and satellite surveillance. Getting familiar with Ultrasound may take some time. As Ultrasound is a Microsoft utility, it can be downloaded from the Microsoft Download Center.

Once you install the SQL server, or prepare a database on an existing server, you can proceed to installing Ultrasound. You will be asked which server to use and you can just enter the name of the PC where your SQL server is running. After deploying the database structure, which can take a few minutes, the installation will finish, and you will have a new program menu entry, called FRS Monitoring, where Ultrasound is located.

Once you launch Ultrasound for the first time, you will be asked to add an FRS replica to Ultrasound. At this point, you should click Yes and you will be prompted for your domain name and the available FRS replicas. In our case, this is similar to the example shown in the following screenshot. By simply clicking the replica set, and then clicking on Add, you can add it to the list of FRS replicas to the list of FRS replicas to be monitored.

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Next, you click OK, and Ultrasound will collect the Schema data from the selected replica set, and then ask you to add all Servers found, add only the highly connected, hub, servers or add none, and you will select your own. There is also an option to install the WMI collectors, which you want to do (shown in the following screenshot).

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Once you have selected your approach, a whole world of information will open up. The tool may appear confusing simply because of the volume of information you can gather with it, but the learning curve quickly flattens, and the data that it provides becomes invaluable. After the initial WMI collector deployment is done, you can close the screen. Henceforth you will find that the screen shown in the following screenshot is always displayed when you start Ultrasound:

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At first, you are given a health rating, which is generally accurate as only critical errors, or errors that could cause problems, change this rating. You can expand the replica set and see each server’s health rating as well. This allows you to quickly identify any critical issues with the DCs.

Details

On the second tab, Details, you will find information about the replications of the servers you have selected. We selected only DC1, DC2, and DC30, and details of the ongoing replications and which DCs have the most inbound and outbound connections are displayed, as shown in the following screenshot. On the top, you can also change the details to be displayed, for example the files contained within this Replica Set that are replicated.

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Right-clicking on a server opens up a context menu that either allows you to collect data from a specific server, or opens up the replica set and displays the details of the replica set for the server, depending on the context.

Right-clicking on the inbound or outbound connection windows will allow you to collect data, or see details regarding a specific inbound, outbound, or replica member.

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